Although more people in Palm Beach County cast ballots this year during early voting than previous midterm elections, turnout at a new voting site at Florida Atlantic University appeared to fall short of expectations.
Palm Beach saw nearly 175,000 people pass through 14 polling places during two weeks of early voting. The FAU site, however, recorded ballots from just 4,410 voters, the second fewest among early voting locations in the county.
By comparison, more than 19,000 people cast ballots at three public university campuses in Miami-Dade County.
“I don’t think everybody knows this is here,” said Tom Berger, who was as a poll worker on Saturday at FAU—which was the only university in Palm Beach to host an early voting site. Foot traffic “is lighter than you would expect.”
On Saturday, there was little indication the early voting site even existed at FAU’s Housing and Residential Ed. Building, other than the few voting signs around it.
There were no campaign signs or vote canvassers near the polling place. Students occasionally walked or skateboarded by with just a handful entering the building. Voters, who were not FAU students, also trickled in.
At around the same time at the nearby voting site at the Boca Raton Public Library, about a dozen people waited in line as canvassers held signs and solicited votes.
Palm Beach elections supervisor Susan Bucher expected the early voting site at FAU to help boost student turnout. FAU is like “its own little town” with about 30,000 students on campus every day, she told WLRN before early voting began.
The county added the new site at the school after a federal judge in July overturned a controversial state policy that barred colleges from hosting early voting. Polling places for early voting also opened at public university campuses in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties after the ruling.
Despite the light turnout, several FAU students said having the site on campus near the dorms made voting more convenient. On Saturday, some students strolled into the polling place wearing pajamas.
“It’s nice because I can just walk over here, and it’s like five minutes from my building,” said Amanda Himmel, who is a sophomore and lives on campus.
Michael Gaines, a freshman, added that campus groups have been lobbying students to vote.
Voters who were not FAU students also took advantage of the new location. Still, Annie Grotheer said it was hard finding the site.
“On the internet, they just said FAU. So I had to research and read through three different articles to find the actual building,” Grotheer said. “It was pretty easy to find once I knew what building I was looking for.”
Bucher told the Palm Beach Post that she was not surprised by the low turnout at FAU. Students often prefer to vote by mail. The county also rushed to agree on a polling location with the university after the July court ruling. Bucher’s office did not have enough time to advertise the new site, she said.
She added that campaign signs around the polling place were removed for a rally last week on campus for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. Campaigns have not placed any new signs around the site.
Diane Wiles was one of several vote canvassers who were at the Boca Raton Library on Saturday instead of the FAU site. She said she couldn’t afford to waste limited resources at the university.
“If I had enough [volunteers], I’d love to be at all the places,” said Wiles who was standing with a greyhound as she advocated for the state Amendment 13 ban on greyhound racing. “But we don’t have enough, so we have to focus on the high turnout locations.”